Can BACtrack Become The Nike FuelBand For Alcoholics?

Today, the San Francisco-based company BACtrack unveiled the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer, which monitors your alcohol consumption and wirelessly syncs with your mobile device–a potentially potent cocktail of drunken oversharing.

From The Hangover to The Hangover Part II to The Hangover Part III, all-night binge drinking has led to many a misadventure and memory loss. But a new tool from breathalyzer company BACtrack could help imbibers avoid their inevitable headaches, with an assist from their smartphone.


Today, the San Francisco-based company unveiled the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer, a tool that can monitor your alcohol consumption and sync wirelessly with your mobile device. “[It combines] fuel cell sensor technology, Bluetooth connectivity, and app-enabled features … to quickly and easily estimate Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), as well as track, share, and understand results,” the company said in a statement. It’s part of a growing trend of devices in the arena of quantified self: We use Nike’s FuelBand to track our steps and calories; Jawbone’s Up to monitor our daily activity; and Lark to measure our sleeping patterns. BACtrack’s bet is: Aren’t consumers just as interested in digitally monitoring their alcohol intake?

The BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer itself is nothing novel. Roughly the size of a pack of Tic Tacs, the device acts like any traditional breathalyzer: Blow into its short straw-like opening and the device will quickly assess how much you’ve had to drink. What’s unique is that the device can wirelessly sync via Bluetooth to a range of smartphones and tablets, including the iPhone 4S and 5 and the iPad 3 and Mini.

Though the company claims to be the “world’s first smartphone breathalyzer,” there are a number of solutions that also claim to have reached this cultural zenith. Breathometer and Alcohoot, for example, are two competitors in the space vying for our vodka-scented exhales, but neither are wireless nor available yet for purchase. What sets BACtrack apart, however, isn’t its hardware but its software.

The BACtrack app comes with a number of smart features. Not only will it digitally determine your BAC, but it will let you know how long it will take before it is likely to return to zero. Users can see results over the last six hours or the past two weeks, enabling them to monitor alcohol consumption patterns. The app also allows users to see the time and location of when and where BAC tests were taken; to produce and save drink logs through tags and pictures, a sort of Foodspotting for cocktails; and to share and compare data with friends through the app or via social media.

While most people probably can’t imagine wanting to share such personal (and likely depressing) results on Twitter or Facebook like they might share NikeFuel points, BACtrack CEO Keith Nothacker believes it could help users make healthier changes to their drinking behavior. “Testing and sharing personal BAC results creates a dialogue around responsible drinking, which is longer overdue,” he said today in the company’s statement.

Still, at $149.99, it’s hard to envision that such an expensive tool would be required outside professional use–it’s not likely to be worth the novelty for frat bros looking to show off how much they can consume without blacking out, say. But outside cops and clinics, the company believes customers might include “parents, gadget lovers, DUI offenders, college drinkers,” and even “athletes and celebrities.” (Reese Witherspoon?)


Perhaps. Yet on a recent outing to Fenway Park, I was unable to figure out how to get the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer working. The slew of drinks I knocked down didn’t help, but considering intoxicated customers are the company’s clientele, the threshold of difficulty for using the device ought to be no more complicated than flipping a Flabongo upside down. Will consumers really download the app, remember to charge the device, bring it and a smartphone with them, and then remember to sync the devices and monitor results throughout their evenings?

A few days after my initial test, though, I was able to get the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer working. But by that point, I was dead sober. It was a Monday evening, after all. But perhaps that proves I’m not the company’s target demographic.

[DUI Test Image: Everett Collection via Shutterstock]

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.